The Supreme Court has had all kinds of legal luminaries who held the title of Chief Justice, with some leaving a more lasting mark on Philippine jurispudence than others.
Among the men who have held the post of primus inter pares or first among equals, the late former CJ Andres Narvasa was truly a giant of a man.
(We cannot as yet pass judgment on the country’s first female CJ, Lourdes Sereno, because she is still fairly new to the job and has yet to leave her mark, be it good or bad.)
Narvasa – the country’s 19th CJ—forever embedded himself in the national consciousness as a member of the Agrava Commission, which was formed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to investigate the assassination of former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., the father of the incumbent president.
The investigation was held under the most difficult situation imaginable. Marcos was still president and absolute ruler of the Philippines, and he had prejudged the killing of the popular Ninoy as having been done by a communist hitman, Rolando Galman. The Filipino people had been angered by the assassination at the airport tarmac, and did not believe that the commission would render a fair and independent report.
The people were only half right. Corazon Agrava who headed the commission submitted a report to Marcos that concluded that Galman did it, thereby ruining her reputation in the process. But Narvasa – God bless his soul – led the other commissioners who studied the evidence they had gathered, and concluded that one of the soldiers who escorted Aquino out of the plane had fired the fatal shot.
The tension between Narvasa and Marcos was palpable when the majority report was submitted and the dictator was unhappy at what it said, but the former chief justice stood his ground.
Although the mastermind was not named in the report prepared by Narvasa and company, by implication it was clear that “someone” in the inner circle of Marcos had ordered the killing of Aquino. The “grey dean” as Narvasa came to be known had refused to kowtow to the most powerful man in the country by agreeing to support the Agrava version. In so doing, the people found a champion and a hero in the retired CJ.
In fact, Narvasa was only being true to himself. He had earned an enviable reputation of not only being a master of the law, but of being able to think clearly under the most trying of times. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of law students who studied under him remember Narvasa as a professor who understood both the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
After he retired and after his time in the Agrava Commission, Narvasa put up a law office that quickly became one of the most well known in the country. His reputation alone guaranteed that the office would never be wanting in high-profile clients.
Perhaps another retired Chief Justice, Hilario Davide, said it best. In extolling the fallen Narvasa, Davide said, “Do not grieve; rejoice for Chief Justice Narvasa is now incorruptible and immortal. He is alive in our hearts.”
Indeed, he is. Indeed, Andres Narvasa remains alive in the hearts of all of us who believe in the supremacy of the law.